Rock and roll renaissance man Little Steven (Steven Van Zandt) kicks out the jams on his long-time-coming solo album, Soulfire.
The New Jersey guitar hero wears many hats — or bandanas — most visibly as Bruce Springsteen’s guitar sidekick, but here he gets down to his roots as a pioneer of the Jersey Shore sound.
The workman-like grit that’s a result of an R&B, doo wop, soul, and rock and roll mix is what Little Steven blasts out here (I’m Coming Back). The Springsteen connection is up front, but Little Steven’s position as producer, co-writer, and E Street band co-founder justifies his role. His pre-Street career actually led to the formation of the famed band as a result of stints in South Side Johnny’s and Gary “U.S.” Bonds’ groups, as well as times on oldies circuits on the Eastern seaboard.
Nevertheless, Little Steven and his fifteen piece Disciples of Soul bring passion and fire to forms that sound and feel lovingly honest and unaffected (I Saw theLight). It’s a throwback to good old rock and roll redemption from saloons, bars, and stadiums. On Soulfire, his voice and guitar carry the day, but they’re backed up by horns, backing singers, and an all round crack banc of grooving rockers.
There’s nothing to hide behind with this music — power chords, horn shots, solos, and an unrefined but committed singer belting it. For now, Little Steven has left political activism behind (his Sun City recording and work) and sounds connected — somewhat like his pal Springsteen did about 40 years ago.
He’s had time to work it out, though. His last solo record was 18 years ago and his role on The Sopranos has given space to reflect. The music on Soulfire is full throated rock and roll – unpretentious music for Saturday night believers that can’t help but carry on that buzz through the next day and the one after that. The list of solid tracks here is evidence.
–Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.